Minor Distractions - Looking Ahead

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The Penguins roster is starting to return to relative health and the Olympic break is right around the corner, so it is only a matter of time before WBS starts to see some reinforcements trickling back down.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have spent the first half of the 2013-14 NHL season as the most injury riddled team in the entire NHL, but the tides are starting to turn. There are still a few bumps in the road, it has gotten to the point where even the call-ups have been dropping, but a few of the important big name players are getting closer and its only a matter of time before the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins start to get some of their players back.

What got me thinking about looking ahead to these decisions is a recent article by Lindsay Kramer on Syracuse.com discussing the NHL transaction rules governing assignment of players to the AHL during the Olympic break. So in addition to looking at the WBS players that have come up to Pittsburgh and how they have fared during the season I wanted to see what we can expect in the way of reinforcements to WBS.

NHL Olympics Assignment Procedures

Before we get started with the breakdown of the assignment procedures we need to note that there are two important dates to keep in mind. January 24th is the start of the Pre-Olympic period which is where the movement restrictions kick in, much the same as how we saw a roster freeze prior to the Christmas break. The other important date is February 8th, which is the final day before the start of the Olympic break.

The first thing we need to do is categorize the players into different groups. Players that are waiver exempt fall into 3 different categories. The first group are players who been on the NHL roster, whether on the active roster or on the injured reserve, for at least 87 days between the start of the season on October 1st and the start of the Pre-Olympic period on January 24th. The second group are players that have played in 16 of the last 20 NHL games leading up to the Pre-Olympic period on January 24th.

For both of these first two groups of players, in order for them to be eligible to play and practice in the AHL during the Olympic break they must be assigned to the AHL by 5:00pm on January 24th and remain on the AHL roster up through the entire Pre-Olympic period that ends on February 8th. Any player who does not meet these criteria is not eligible to play nor to practice with the AHL affiliate during the Olympic break.

These players may, however, be assigned to the AHL during the Pre-Olympic period any time after January 24th and remain eligible to play in the AHL before the start of the Olympic break. But if they are sent down after the January 24th cutoff then they may not play nor practice with the team even if they remain assigned to the AHL club throughout the Olympic break.

The 3rd group of waiver exempt players are those that have not met either of the above criteria. They are eligible to be sent down to the AHL at any time up to 5pm the day following the team's final NHL game prior to the Olympic break, which conveniently for Pittsburgh is the same February 8th cutoff we had been using above. As long as they are sent down prior to that cutoff then they are eligible to play in the AHL during the Olympic break.

Lastly we have players that are no longer waiver exempt, the ones that need to clear waivers in order to be assigned to the AHL. I am not entirely certain which of the groups they would fall under, but if I had to wager a guess I would assume that they function the same way in that the players fall into one of the 3 categories above and as such have different cutoff dates as to when they need to be assigned to the AHL in order to be eligible to play during the Olympic break. The difference being that it takes 24 hours to clear waivers, so they would need to be placed on waivers the day before the January 24th or February 8th cutoff date and clear so that they can be assigned to the AHL by 5pm on the cutoff date.

Who's Who Among Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects

So with all the complicated technicalities out of the way, now we can take a look at who we still have in the NHL that is most likely to find themselves spending time in the AHL during the Olympic Break.

Harry Zolnierczyk was the first player the Penguins called up from WBS. He was called up on four separate occasions, during which time he played in 9 NHL games scoring 1 Goal and finishing with a -1 rating. He was most recently sent back down on December 30th and is currently playing in the AHL. It is worth noting, however, that if he gets called back up again and remains for just 3 days or plays in 1 more NHL game then he would need to be placed on waivers in order to be sent back down to the AHL again. But as it stands he was on the NHL roster for just 27 days and is unlikely to hit the 16 game threshold even if he does get called back up to the NHL one more time, so he retains his eligibility to play in the AHL during the Olympic break as long as he is on the WBS roster as of February 8th.

Chris Conner was the second player the Penguins called up from WBS. He was called up twice, during which time he played in 19 NHL games scoring 4 Goals and 1 Assist while finishing with a -3 rating. Most recently he was placed on Injured Reserve on January 2nd after undergoing hand surgery and is expected to be out for 6-8 weeks. With that timetable he is expected to be out until at the earliest just prior to the Olympic break but at the latest not returning until after the Olympics. Based on games played and days on the roster he would need to clear waivers again in order to be assigned to the AHL, but he will not hit the 87 day nor 16 game threshold prior to the Olympic break, so if he is ready to be activated from IR he could be waived and assigned to WBS and rehab while practicing in the AHL over the Olympic break.

Jayson Megna was the third player the Penguins called up from WBS. He was also called up twice, during which time he played in 15 NHL games scoring 4 Goals and 2 Assists while finishing with a +3 rating. Most recently he was placed on Injured Reserve on December 17th after suffering a lower body injury and was expected to miss 6 weeks. With that timetable he is expected to return by the end of the month. That would make it so that he would not fall under the 16 game mark, however if he remains on the NHL roster after the January 24th cutoff he would be approaching the 87 day mark, so if they want him to play in the AHL during the Olympic break he would need to be assigned prior to hitting the 87th day, which I believe is January 29th.

Zach Sill was the fourth player the Penguins called up from WBS. He called up twice as well, during which time he played in 15 NHL games and finishing with a -4 rating. He is still on the active NHL roster and at the moment is still dressing and playing every night as well. He has not been on the roster long enough for the 87 day threshold to be an issue, but he does run the risk of hitting the 16 games played mark. So in order for him to be eligible to play in the AHL during the Olympic break he would either need to be sent down prior to the January 24th cutoff or else sit out in at least 5 of the 20 games leading up to the Pre-Olympic period if he is sent down between January 24th and February 8th.

Brian Gibbons was the fifth player the Penguins called up from WBS. He was called up twice too, during which time he played in 8 NHL games scoring 1 Goal, 1 Assist, and finishing with a +1 rating. His is also still on the active NHL roster and most recently has been dressing and playing every night again. Like Sill he has also not been on the roster long enough to reach the 87 day threshold, but again like Sill if he remains in the lineup he does run the risk of hitting the 16 games played mark. So just like Sill in order to play in WBS during the Olympic break he would need to either be sent back down prior to the January 24th cutoff or make sure to sit out at least 5 of the most recent 20 games prior to the Pre-Olympic period before being sent down if he remains in the lineup between January 24th and February 8th.

Andrew Ebbett was the sixth player the Penguins called up from WBS. He was called up on November 24th and played just 5 NHL games, during which time he scored 1 Assist and finished with an even 0 rating, before being placed on Injured Reserve on December 6th with a broken ankle. They have not given a timetable for his return and is just listed as being out indefinitely. I am also not entirely certain if days accrued for waiver exempt status includes days on the IR or whether it is just days on the active roster, so it is entirely possible that he would need to clear waiver in order to be sent back to WBS when he returns from injury. However, he will not reach the 87 game threshold nor the 16 games played mark prior to the Olympic break, so if he returns from his injury he may very well be sent down to spend the Olympic break in the AHL as long as he is assigned prior to February 8th.

Simon Despres was the seventh player the Penguins called up from WBS. He was called up on November 27th and has played in 16 NHL games, during which time he scored 4 Assists and finished with a +3 rating. Like Sill and Gibbons before him he is still on the active NHL roster and has dressed in most games. Likewise, he has not been on the roster long enough to reach the 87 day threshold, but he does run the risk on hitting the 16 games played mark if he remains on the NHL roster. So like the other active players he would need to sit in at least 5 of the 20 games leading up to the Pre-Olympic period if he remains in the lineup between January 24th and February 8th.

Brian Dumoulin was the eighth player the Penguins called up from WBS. He was called up on December 9th and sent back down on December 30th, during which time he played 6 NHL games scoring 1 Assist and finishing with a +1 rating. Like Zolnierczyk he is currently playing in the AHL and even if he gets called up he cannot reach the 87 day threshold and is unlikely to be able to reach the 16 games played mark, so he is all but certain to be eligible to play in WBS during the Olympic break.

Philip Samuelsson was the 9th player the Penguins called up from WBS. He was called up on December 16th and sent back down on December 24th, during which time he played 5 NHL games and finished with a -1 rating. Like Zolnierczyk and Dumoulin he is currently playing in the AHL and is not capable of reaching the 87 day threshold nor is he likely to reach the 16 games played mark. In fact, he is unlikely to even get called back up to the NHL this year, so he is all but certain to be eligible to play in WBS during the Olympic break.

Beau Bennett is not amongst the players that began the season in WBS and got called up to Pittsburgh, but being that he is on an Entry Level deal and as such waiver exempt he does share many similarities with the call-ups on this list. Bennett got injured twice so far this season, a lower body injury that caused him to be placed on Injured Reserve on October 15th, which resulted in him missing 11 games and returning on November 9th, and then surgery for a broken wrist that caused him to be placed back on Injured Reserve on November 23rd. The timetable for his return was 8-10 weeks, which means that at the earliest he is expected to be activated by the end of the month. He was on the NHL roster since the start of the season, so he most certainly will pass the 87 day threshold. That means if he wants to play in the AHL during the Olympic break he would need to be assigned prior to the January 24th cutoff. That would actually be quite beneficial to him as that would allow him to rehab from injury with a conditioning stint in the AHL, keeping in shape and playing during the Olympic break and returning to the lineup to join the team when they get back from Sochi.

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